"God made Cabernet Sauvignon. The devil made Pinot Noir." - Andre Tschelistcheff
Mr. Tschelistcheff is an A-lister amongst the giants of the American wine industry so what could possibly irk him so about Pinot Noir to evoke that kind of a pronouncement? Could it be that the darn grape seems to fail to produce anything worthwhile ninety percent of the time? Actually, in my humble opinion, the percentage should be much higher than that!
In the previous installment we mentioned the cool climate mandatory for the grape's success. Now lets look at soil. New Zealand is located on a techtonic fault line in the Pacific Ocean which obviously means the islands were created by volcanic activity. The soil is a mix of sandstone (Greywhacke, locally) and schist which is a degraded minerally rock that was once clay and mud. That mix results in a free draining alluvial soil that is common in most vineyard valleys with variations on the many hillsides in New Zealand.
Martinborough, Waipara, Marlborough, Nelson, and Central Otago are the five major Pinot regions. They mainly share the same soil and topography but while the maritime climate is common to nine of the ten wine appellations, Central Otago's large wine valley is surrounded by barrier hills giving it a continental climate. Central Otago is also the place where New Zealand Pinot reaches its lush quality zenith.
Pinot Noir at its best is approachable, refined, and contemplative. As my mentor Jim Sanders always maintained, Pinot Noir is the only wine that actually improves in the glass. New Zealand Pinot Noir is fruit-driven, intense, and expressive. It has old world elegance and structure but because the grapes are left on the vine longer for new world tastes, the wine is rounder and lower in acidity than Burgundy. Texturally, it seems to be more Syrah-like with the earthiness we spoke of earlier being part and parcel of the product. But because all New Zealand Pinot Noir is entirely stainless steel-produced, the fruit becomes especially intensified.
So why is good Pinot Noir so difficult to produce? Aside from the terroir attributes listed above, the grape, itself, is handicapped. Pinot grapes are small, thin-skinned berries that normally produce a light-in-body, light-in-color, light-in-flavor wine due essentially to the lack of pigment in the skins. Red wines get their flavor from the skins. Moreover, this kind of grape is prone to fungal infections, rot, and downy mildew in warmer climates, which by the way, also explains why prices are so high for Pinot.
Please join us Friday the 19th between 5 and 8pm, when we taste 2012 Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir along with a number of other great companion wines. And become a follower here so I don't end up a greeter at Walmart!